Bills recently introduced in Missouri and Idaho would make it a crime to travel to another state for essential health care.
As Republican lawmakers push ahead with their slate of restrictive, anti-transgender, anti-reproductive health measures in state after GOP-held state across the country, a new tactic is emerging among some of the conservative movement’s most extreme corners — one that would not only criminalize essential health care locally, but would actually extend their punitive reach into other states as well.
Over the past few weeks, several Republican-led states have introduced bills that include special provisions to actively punish residents who travel elsewhere to receive medical care, such as gender-affirmation treatment or pregnancy termination. In Idaho, for instance, H.B. 675 not only declares that anyone convicted to have provided certain forms of gender-affirmation treatments for minors is “guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned in the state prison for a term of not more than life” — it also makes special point to include anyone who “knowingly removes or causes, permits, or facilitates the removal of a child from this state” for the same treatment. The measure, introduced in the Idaho House by Republican attorney and “avid historian” state Rep. Bruce Skaug, was passed onto the state Senate by an overwhelming margin of 55-13, almost entirely along party lines. (A lone Republican — state Rep. Fred Wood — joined the minority Democrats in voting against the bill. Notably, Wood is the Idaho House’s sole physician.)
A similar effort is underway in Missouri — already home to one of the most prohibitive anti-choice laws in the country — where Republican state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman has recently introduced a string of amendments that would emulate Texas’s recently passed anti-abortion measure by giving ordinary residents the ability to sue anyone even tangentially associated with helping residents travel across state lines to terminate a pregnancy.
“If your neighboring state doesn’t have pro-life protections, it minimizes the ability to protect the unborn in your state,” Coleman told The Washington Post.
Speaking with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Pro Choice Missouri Policy Manager Maggie Olivia denounced Coleman as “willing to sacrifice the will of the people, and the lives of the people, to fundraise off of extremist ideological agendas to retain and further their own political power.”
In response to Texas’s anti-abortion laws, California last year moved forward with plans to become a “sanctuary state” for people seeking to terminate pregnancies. That effort involves not only providing the health care services themselves, but also assisting with a suite of associated logistical costs, such as lost wages and temporary housing. Should Coleman’s amendments be passed into law, however, anyone connected with a person’s attempt to undergo a legal procedure could still find themselves at risk of a lawsuit.
Ultimately, the constitutionality of Coleman’s and Skaug’s measures remains highly dubious. But the fact that these efforts are beginning to crop up in multiple states is a clear sign that Republicans are expanding their ongoing enterprise of chipping away medical access for people in need, and exploring new and horrifying ways to codify their prohibitive legislation to apply as broadly and oppressively as possible.